Esteemed Reader: Bookcase in a Window | August 2023 | Esteemed Reader | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Information can be true or untrue, but knowledge is always true—within the context of having been personally verified.

Robin Bloor, To Fathom the Gist

I did the thing I swore I would never do—put a bookcase in front of a window. It is a low bookcase that only obscures the bottom panes, but a threshold has been crossed. All available wall space suitable for bookcases was full and the step was necessary. 

To be clear, I am not a hoarder and regularly scan the shelves for books I no longer need, but there are so many that are rare and out of print that I feel I am providing a needed service to the electronic future by keeping a physical library. My criteria for keeping a book is that it gives practical indications for answering the question: "What is a human being for?" 

This is the information age arguably inaugurated in the last century with the invention of the microfiche and expanding at a parabolic pace with the development of electronic storage. Next year there will be 150 zettabytes of data stored worldwide, the information equivalent of 135,000 stacks of printed books stretching from the Earth to the Sun. 

The current popular view suggests that everything in the universe from minerals to consciousness is material, albeit of varying degrees of density and vibrational conductivity. I further suggest that knowledge is included in this spectrum and there is a limited quantity available on Earth. In most epochs, that knowledge is concentrated in esoteric groups, but during stages of planetary transition it disperses and spreads like a fine, impotent dust or informational smog into the ecosystem. 

On the qualitative spectrum, what is the difference between data and information, information and knowledge, knowledge and understanding, understanding and wisdom? Here's an attempt to answer the question. 

Data is quantitative. For instance, "the average time spent by users giving their attention to media platforms and different devices is 6 hours 37 minutes per day." Information gives context, e.g. "Screens and their contents have come to dominate all other objects of attention and modes of relating to the world, attracting nearly half the average person's waking hours." 

Knowledge gives a practical application and potential for verification in experience. For instance, "attention is a vector of consciousness that is available to be intentionally directed to an outer or inner object (or both), provided if it is not captured." 

The shift to understanding is a movement into a personal and subjective, though arguably no less empirical, realm. What one has verified in experience is indubitable, requiring neither defense nor promotion. Though a unit of understanding is always open to expansion and revision, it is truly one's own because it has been tested in the crucible of application. For instance, with observation and effort I see that I do in fact have the power to direct my attention; that directing attention is a fundamental choice, even the key to freedom; that in dividing my attention between my inner and outer life I come in contact with a deeper sense of the meaning and purpose of my life. 

In this schema, wisdom is the result of acting from one's understanding in myriad circumstances and over time and becomes a permanent center of gravity. Given the example of attention, I work to keep a more or less continuous awareness of my attention for I know that where my attention is, there I am also. I remember that this awareness is as vital for my inner life as breath is for my body; that conscious attention over time affords the freedom to perceive and respond to larger patterns at work in myself and in the world.

Knowing what information has potency is work of continual discernment. Like the prospector up to his knees in the stream, we plunge the pan into the informational sediment again and again scouring the screen for a glint of viable knowledge.

Comments (0)
Add a Comment
  • or

Support Chronogram